My Influences Part 4: Lord British

Richard Garriott (a.k.a Lord British) is the first person in this series who isn't an author, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been a huge influence.  Garriott is a video game designer, most famous for his work on the Ultima series, credited as one of the first computer RPGs and for having ambitious storytelling and scope during a time when most RPGs were "Kill level one monsters until you achieve level 2, then kill level 2 monsters until you achieve level three, and repeat until you're strong enough to kill the evil boss monster and finish the game."

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar was one of the first Role Playing Games I ever completed, and certainly the one that I invested the most in, in terms of time, energy, and genuine connection to the story.

Ultima IV is unique in that it is one of the first RPGs that required you to behave like a hero in order to finish the game.  In most RPGs of the time, your job was to kill, steal, and loot everything you could find to gain power and money to finish the game.  Not so in Ultima IV.  Instead, the game required you to go on a moral quest of enlightenment, following each of eight virtues, such as compassion, honesty, and justice.  The game presented moral choices and behaving in an immoral way came with stiff penalties and made the game much more difficult or even outright impossible to complete. 

The game influenced me in many ways, but the biggest way was that it taught me there was more than one way to tell a story.  There is no "villain" in Ultima IV - the only goal is understanding and enlightenment.  As I played I kept waiting for an evil villain to appear for me to fight and slay, and looking for hints of where they might be or how they would arrived.  I kept looking and waiting right until the moment I finished the game. 

It perplexed me for days after the fact.  I was totally engrossed in this game, in this world, but it bore none of the trappings of similar games that I'd enjoyed.  I was confused that a game could have so much depth and be so compelling without an evil mastermind to hunt and kill.  It caused me to fundamentally rethink what makes a good story.

Then, it did it again in Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny when it perverted the virtues of the previous game by making them oppressive mandatory laws instead of suggestions for moral living.  Then it made me question how to tell a good story again in Ultima VI as it turned out the "virtuous" actions of the previous games were causing an inadvertent genocide.  Each new Ultima game after Ultima IV deconstructed the previous game and reshaped the narrative in a compelling way (except Ultima IX, a game Ultima fans try hard to pretend doesn't exist). 

It taught me so much about perspective in storytelling and how the same event can be perceived in radically different ways and utterly changed the way I perceived my own writing, even when I write stories that aren't science fiction or fantasy.